Encouraging Employees to Come Forward, HR.com

April 2, 2019

We have all read the #MeToo and Time’s Up headlines. We have seen celebrities and high-profile executives face ostracizing, termination, and even prosecution. Time Magazine named The Silence Breakers as their TIME Person of the Year for 2017. Yet, have we seen meaningful change in our workplaces across the country? The jury is still out.

In a national study released in June 2018, 21% of Americans stated that they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. More specifically, the Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: #metoo, Women, Men, and the Gig Economy report from the Marketplace-Edison Research Poll revealed that 27% of women and 14% of men said they have experienced sexual harassment at work. The results beg the question: Are more employees now speaking out against harassment in the workplace?

Since 2017, many employers have scrambled to review their anti-harassment policies and reporting procedures and to implement or update their sexual harassment training. However, all of that effort is for naught if employees do not feel comfortable reporting their concerns. Here are a few simple tips to encourage employees to come forward.

Use Multiple Touchpoints

Beyond disseminating a policy and requiring training, employees need to be reminded about the company’s commitment to a harassment-free workplace through different avenues. One way to do that is to post your anti-harassment policy in a conspicuous place where employees will see it. That place may be your company’s intranet home page, a breakroom message board, or even in company restrooms. The more places the policy is posted, the better chance that employees will view it and become familiar with the various reporting avenues. (More on reporting later!)

Another way to encourage employees to report harassment is to have managers verbalize the company’s commitment to eliminating harassment in more intimate settings like team meetings or weekly conference calls. While it is great to have the president or CEO of a company declare the company’s anti-harassment position, employees are more likely to buy in when that message is also reiterated by the superiors they have daily contact with. A few genuine words encouraging employees to come forward can go a long way.

Establish Several Reporting Avenues

Depending on the size of the company, there may be only one or two people best positioned to accept reports of harassment. Nonetheless, companies have to be creative in providing their employees varied ways to report perceived harassment. Hotlines operated internally or externally are a popular option. Another helpful alternative is to establish a general open door policy encouraging employees to speak with any member of management with whom they feel comfortable with regarding their concerns. The key to open door policies is ensuring that managers are properly trained on how to handle reports of harassment – i.e., don’t ignore the report, don’t promise complete confidentiality, and don’t tell people who don’t need to know. The more ways employees have to report harassment, the more likely employees will do so.

Investigate and Respond to Reports of Harassment

There are probably few worse feelings for an employee than reporting perceived harassment and feeling ignored. Employees feel ignored when employers fail to communicate what steps they are taking to address the report. That communication can be as simple as an initial phone call acknowledging the concern and stating that it is being looked into and a closeout meeting informing the employee that the investigation is complete and appropriate actions have been taken, if any. Even if the outcome is not what the employee desired, he or she should feel that the employer took the report seriously.

Aretha said it best: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The last and most obvious tip for encouraging employees to report harassment is establishing an environment of respect. While individual employees may disagree about what constitutes harassment, most employees can agree on what respect looks and feels like in the workplace. Employers should foster a culture of being respectful to others in the workplace which means a culture of consideration for self and others. Employees who are considerate of other employee’s privacy, personal belongings and physical space as well as of different beliefs, viewpoints, personalities, and physical attributes and abilities are less likely to commit acts of harassment. Simply challenging employees to be respectful will lower the instances of harassment and create a safe space for employees reporting the same.

As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Implementing these tips will encourage employees to report harassment and, hopefully, reduce the number of such complaints.

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